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Web Accessibility Terminology

by Mediacurrent Team
March 16, 2016

Web accessibility can feel overwhelming in the beginning.  Here are some common terms used when discussing accessibility.  Familiarity with these terms will help in gaining an understanding of accessibility.


Web Accessibility - Making products and services available to all users, regardless of visual, aural, motor, and cognitive abilities.

A11y - short for accessibility, often used as a hashtag - #a11y.  Created by combining:
    a - first letter of accessibility
    11 - 11 letters between first and last letters of accessibility
    y - last letter

Universal Design - Accessibility in a broader sense. Implies designing for accessibility as the base of the design process to provide the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people possible instead of as additional steps in the process only for those with disabilities.  Also referred to as inclusive design, barrier free design, human centered design, design-first, person-first design, and universal access.

W3C (World Wide Web Consortium) - W3C is the main international organization that determines the protocols and standards for the World Wide Web.  The organization was founded by the inventor of the internet, Tim Berners-Lee,  in 1994.  The W3C’s mission is:
“ lead the World Wide Web to its full potential by developing protocols and guidelines that ensure the long-term growth of the Web”.

WAI (Web Accessibility Initiative) - WAI is the work of the W3C to make the web more accessible to people with disabilities, and, as a by-product, more usable by all.  They do this by :

  1. Ensuring that web technologies support accessibility
  2. Developing guidelines for accessibility
  3. Developing tools to evaluate and facilitate accessibility
  4. Conducting education and outreach
  5. And coordinating with research and development

Guidelines and Specifications:

WCAG 2.0 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) - Guidelines developed through the WAI explaining how to make web content (text, images, forms, multimedia, etc.) accessible to people with disabilities. Version 2.0 was published in 2008.

ATAG 2.0 (Authoring Tools Accessibility Guidelines) - Guidelines developed through the WAI for any tool used to put content on the web, including 

  • HTML editors (Dreamweaver, PHPStorm, Sublime) 
  • CMS software (Drupal, blogs, wikis)
  • Video and audio editors (Adobe Premiere, Audacity)

UAAG (User Agent Accessibility Guidelines) - Guidelines developed through the WAI that explain how to make user agents (web browsers, media players, and assistive technologies like screen readers and screen magnifiers) accessible to people with disabilities.

MWBP 1.0 (Mobile Web Best Practices) - Guidelines for improving the user experience on the web when accessed from mobile devices. Why is this included?  There is much overlap between techniques used to make web apps work on mobile devices and techniques used to make content accessible to people with disabilities. 

WAI-ARIA (Accessible Rich Internet Applications Suite) - Defines a way to make dynamic content and advanced user interface controls developed with AJAX, HTML, Javascript, and related technologies more accessible to people with disabilities.


Section 508 amendment (1998) to Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - requires federal agencies to make or purchase electronic and information technology that is accessible to people with disabilities. It is often referred to as just “Section 508” in web accessibility.

Section 504 of Rehabilitation Act of 1973 - While Section 508 pertains only to federal agencies, there is some gray area as to whether it also pertains to recipients of federal funds since Section 504 prohibits federally funded entities from discriminating on the basis of disability.

ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) - Prohibits discrimination and ensures equal opportunity for persons with disabilities in employment, state and local government services, public accommodations, commercial facilities, and transportation. The ADA requires that reasonable accommodations be provided in meeting the needs of individuals with disabilities. While this law does not specifically deal directly with websites, there have been several lawsuits that have touched on whether websites fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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